Exhibition Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street
The Van Gogh Museum is devoting itself this spring to ‘Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street’ – a major exhibition of work from its own fin-de-siècle print collection, which is one of the finest of its kind in the world. Over 250 prints of the highest quality, including colourful works by Bonnard, Chéret, Steinlen and Toulouse-Lautrec will be on show, among them world-famous posters like Le Chat Noir and Le Moulin Rouge. The prints will be shown alongside paintings, historical photographs, furniture for collectors and decorative objects, and will take visitors on a sensual journey through the cosmopolitan life of the French fin-de-siècle (1890–1905). The exhibition has been designed by Maarten Spruyt.
The Van Gogh Museum manages one of the finest collections of fin-de-siècle printmaking in the world. As a centre of knowledge and expertise, the museum has been collecting prints intensively for sixteen years and has also carried out five years of in-depth research so that it can now present its print collection in magnificent fashion. Prints that, because of their sensitivity to light, are kept in storage and only displayed sporadically and on a small scale can now be seen in all their glory and in large numbers in the museum’s exhibition wing.
The most beautiful of all the graphic work produced by artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859–1923), Edgar Degas (1834–1917) and Jules Chéret (1836–1832) will be on show at the exhibition, which will feature the finest print series and the rarest impressions. Over 250 prints will be shown alongside paintings, historical photographs, furniture for collectors and decorative objects. There are little jewels like the dark lithographs of Odilon Redon (1840–1916), evoking nightmarish fantasies, and the still series of woodcuts by Félix Vallotton (1865–1925), showing musicians playing in shadowy interiors.
The overarching story of the world of printmaking in Paris – from elite (the private collector) to the street (the mass of the people) – has never previously been told in an exhibition. Prints in Paris 1900 takes visitors on a journey beginning with prints from fashionable art circles, which were kept and viewed in the intimacy of richly decorated interiors. They will see the imposing Bibliothèque – rarely loaned for exhibitions – designed by François-Rupert Carabin (1890, Musée d’Orsay), an exuberantly decorated bookcase several metres tall with carvings of nude women, in which costly books and prints were stored by a private collector.
We then enter an entirely different world – that of popular prints for the masses. Here we find the fleeting impressions of the visual spectacle of modern life in the public sphere, full of colour, light and pleasure. Artistic posters, sheet music and magazine illustrations with their bright colours, large letters and powerful silhouettes, vie for attention. The highlight is Steinlen’s poster The Street, which, with an area of no less than 7.5 m2, is a genuine ‘fresco for the masses’. The prints also tempt visitors into the magical world of Parisian nightlife.
We then see how the elite took public printmaking and pulled it back into their interiors, where posters were now also hung on the walls as decorations. The exhibition concludes by showing a variety of printing techniques, with the original lithography press of the printer Auguste Clot (1858–1936) as the main attraction. A selection of trial proofs and videos explains the techniques of etching, woodcuts and lithography.
The fin-de-siècle (1890–1905) was the heyday of French printmaking. It was the time where avant-garde art blended with everyday life in cosmopolitan Paris. Artists no longer put their talent to work exclusively on the creation of ‘high’ art, but also threw themselves into what were considered ‘lower’ art forms, such as decorative designs, prints, posters and magazine illustrations, with the common theme of modern cosmopolitan life in Paris. Artists experimented intensively with different print techniques and decorated the whole of Paris with their provocative artworks.